Want to return to work after a career break for raising children? Stay updated and plan your return while you’re home.
By Kiran Manral
Companies lose a big talent pool each year when female employees take a career break after having a child. According to industry data, there is a sharp drop in the proportion of women employees in India Inc. from the entry level (50%) to the middle (30%) and senior management (8%). While some women never return to work, others are determined to get back into the work force after a few years’ break.
A Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) study in 2005 found that although they make up about half of the Indian population, women comprise only 6% of the workforce. In addition, at the senior management level at domestic Indian companies, women only constitute about 4% of the total workforce.
According to Priyanka Chaturvedi, Director, Mpower Consultants, an executive search firm,“Women wanting to get back to a full time career in India after a few years of break are very few...which personally I feel at times is due to biased company mindsets and at times warped HR policies. I have had companies categorically telling me it will not work... There is a huge potential of women out there who are eager to get back but can't due to lack of opportunities/flexi hours work policy.”
Says Anurag Shrivastava of HRNext, an executive search consultancy, “... It is important that one does not cut oneself off completely during these child rearing years from the field. The areas where I have seen women return successfully are in HR and Marketing.”
Other fields where it is easier for women to return to full time work after a break include media (print), creative (advertising, designing, writing), retailing (buying/merchandising), accounting and teaching. Fields like Technology and Electronic media can be difficult to break into without adequate skill refreshing, because the rate of change is so fast that a year can make skills outdated.
How to keep yourself employable
If you are planning to take a few years off to raise a child (or for other reasons), here is what you should keep in mind for a smooth re-entry into a professional career.
Plan for your break financially. Before planning a child, see if you can have X amount stashed away as a contingency fund.Financial stability will improve your family’s stability until you find the right job when you are ready to make a comeback. Not having financial solvency will force you to accept the first job offer that comes along, which might not always be the best one.
Network, network. Ensure that you stay connected by reading up on the happenings through industry newsletters and the internet. Stay in touch with colleagues and contacts. They will be your best sources for getting leads into what positions are opening up when you are ready to apply. Keep yourself in the loop about movements of senior personnel and company mergers and buy outs.
Says Chaturvedi, “I highly recommend that women though on a break should keep themselves absolutely updated about their industry, people movement, takeovers, mergers and more importantly, keep in touch with colleagues from their place of work. They are a huge source of information and guidance.”
Find a mentor. Don’t underestimate the value of having a mentor. Have a mentor through your career and find one who will stay with you through a break and advise you on the best way to make a foray back into the workforce at a suitable level. A mentor could be your boss, a senior person in your industry or even someone you’ve met through a women’s network in your city. (Find out if there are such groups you can join.)
Update skills. Just because you are on a break doesn’t mean your skills have to rust. (Before you decide to go on a break, ask yourself whether you have achieved a certain amount of expertise and authority in your field. If what you can offer is unique, then a career break shouldn’t matter as much.)
If you plan to move to an alternate career, research the industry you want to get into and invest in training yourself for the skills you need in your new career. This could also be a reason for a career break. But do focus on skills in your previous job which can be transferred to your new profession.
Keep your resume updated by participating in activities which could be relevant to skill development or work experience - for instance, volunteering with an NGO, or taking weekend classes for a six month diploma course certification in new skills. This will also help in keeping your confidence levels high, an issue many women face when they begin the job hunting rounds.
According to Srivastava, some measures women on a break can take to smoothen their return to a career are:
- Working on project based assignments which have time deadlines but do not require presence in the office. For e.g. an HR person can work on developing performance plans for an SME.
- Taking up additional professional certifications, as this helps to explain breaks even if the value in terms of new skills/learning is limited.
- Being visible in social media and blogging on professional topics.
At a personal level, mothers need to ensure that their children start thinking independently and are not too clingy. This is the toughest part as they get used to mother at home. In that sense, women who return to work after a short maternity break find it easier.
Some companies are looking at means to reintegrate professionally qualified and experienced women who have taken career breaks for child rearing. Talking about the Tata Group’s Second Career program, Chaturvedi says, “It is good to see companies like the Tata group who have taken a lead in tapping this workforce and after a small training period, they have a chance to work on short term projects in the various Tata companies. This is good news for women who want to get back but don't get the opportunity... small steps and initiatives like these could see changes in the way employers look at women wanting to get back.”
With growing awareness about a manpower resource which is often sidelined, it is to be hoped that more companies will introduce policies and initiatives making it easier for women who go on a break to return to work.
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